Mustangs return to FD with momentum on their side

Submitted photo Newell-Fonda’s state-qualifying softball team includes, front row (left to right): Ella Larsen, Emma Stewart, Olivia Larsen, Bailey Sievers and Maggie Walker. Middle: Alexis Mandernach, Anna Bellcock, Lizzy Smith and Macy Sievers. Back: coach Tim Gauley, Anna Tiefenthaler, Camryn Wilken, Peyton Wilken, Ellie Lago, Sophie Stewart, Haylee Puhrmann, Kylie Robinson, Megan Morenz and assistant Courtney Vaughn.

As far as Olivia Larsen is concerned, the ultimate achievement is always a state title regardless of the sport.

For Larsen and unranked Newell-Fonda, their softball championship quest begins here at Rogers Park on Monday when they take on No. 2 Collins-Maxwell in a Class 1A quarterfinal round contest.

First pitch is set for 11 a.m. on Buena Vista University Diamond.

The Mustangs (25-13 overall) scored a convincing 10-0 victory over seventh-ranked North Union to reach the state tournament and claim a regional title last week.

“It feels great to be heading back to Fort Dodge and knowing that we get a chance to compete again and be in the best atmosphere possible,” Larsen said. “Every sport has the same end goal: get to state and win state, so I’m more than excited and humble to know that we have a chance to take the title for ourselves.”

Larsen, a junior who was a starter on the Newell-Fonda basketball team that placed second this past winter, led the team with a .438 average. She also had 52 steals, drove in 24 runs, recorded 56 hits, scored 53 runs and had 11 extra-base hits.

Along with her freshman sister, Ella, the Larsen girls have posted a combined record of 22-11 inside the circle with 133 strikeouts.

Like Olivia, Ella is a standout at the plate, batting .437 with a team-high 48 RBI and a slugging percentage of .689. She has 19 steals, eight doubles, eight triples and two homers, scoring 47 times.

Ella Larsen has tossed 18 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run, striking out 19 and surrendering just nine hits.

After missing out on the state tournament a year ago, the elder Larsen is excited to be returning to the hallowed grounds.

“I love going down to Fort Dodge and playing,” Larsen said. “It also helps that we play in the Fort Dodge Tournament a couple of weeks before the tournament trail.

“This time, though, when we go to Rogers Park, it’s the best of the best, and it’s nothing less than amazing to know that we are part of and get to compete against the best of the best.”

Megan Morenz, Maggie Walker, Bailey Sievers and Emma Stewart all hit above .300 and each have driven in at least 20 runs and stolen 20 bases for the Mustangs, who have won three in a row and six of seven.

As a team, Newell-Fonda has 194 steals and a batting average of .352. They have drawn 118 walks and scored 322 runs.

Their stolen-base total is tied for second in the entire state with Janesville and they have scored the second-most runs in 1A. The Mustangs are also fourth in 1A with 361 hits.

Seven of Newell-Fonda’s 13 losses this year came by two runs or less, with two defeats being to fellow state qualifiers in No. 3 (1A) Akron-Westfield and fifth-ranked (2A) Alta/Aurelia.

This marks the 10th appearance all-time at state for the Mustangs, which includes a state title in 2008. They have qualified for the elite eight six times since 2010.

Collins-Maxwell (27-1) is making its second appearance at state, having also qualified in 1985. The school did make it in 3A in 2016 as CMB-Baxter.

The Spartans have won 11 in a row since a 4-1 loss to sixth-ranked (3A) Eddyville-Blakesburg, scoring over 10 runs in seven of those games. They have 16 shutouts on the season and are hitting .433 as a team, which is third-best in the state.

Sophomore Mikayla Houge is 25-1 with 279 strikeouts and just 32 walks, carrying a 0.48 earned run average with her. Eighth-grader Alexis Houge bats .604 with 47 steals and 10 walks to just three strikeouts.

Mikayla Houge, Reagan Franzen, Hannah Caple and lone senior Katie Camp are all hitting over .400. Collins-Maxwell has struck out just 59 times as a team in almost 700 at-bats.